Where Are New York’s Best Acoustics? We Took a Listening Tour.

As three people struck wood with mallets under a viaduct in Queens during the morning rush hour one day in the fall, a man walked up and asked, “What do you call this music?” The players could have told him the title of the piece, Michael Gordon’s “Timber,” or given him some idea of the genre. But one, Caitlin Cawley, simply said, “Percussion.”

Cawley and her colleagues from the ensemble Mantra Percussion were at the viaduct, which runs along Queens Boulevard and under the 7 train, to test the sound of its vaulted ceiling. It was part of a project to perform “Timber,” an hourlong work from 2009, in man-made sites with idiosyncratic acoustics around New York City.

The result, called Resonant Spaces, begins on Sunday, with performances at three locations, followed by three more on April 21. In addition to the viaduct, they include Castle Clinton and Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, archways in Prospect Park and Dumbo, and a monument in Fort Greene Park. The free concerts will allow the public to hear New York the way percussionists do: as a limitless source of musical opportunity.

“Timber” was originally written for the Dutch group Slagwerk Den Haag. Six percussionists struck amplified two-by-fours — a take on simantras, planks of wood shaped to create specific tones, which have a history of being used in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the early performances of “Timber,” the simantras were made from pine, but Mantra Percussion has taken a different route. Michael McCurdy, a member, said that the score didn’t specify the wood. “When you are learning Xenakis, or anything,” he said, “when the composer says ‘wood block,’ the variety of sounds that can come from that instrument is vast.’”

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